Friday, June 12, 2009

On "The Mabinogion" translated by Sioned Davies ***

I wish I could say I remember more of this than I do. This old Welsh work is in many ways quite similar to Thomas Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur, which I just finished. I can say I enjoyed this one much more, in part because the style of the writing of this time befits the short tales that make up this collection much better than a 700-page tome. Malory's text, in its middle, came off as episodic and began to feel quite repetitive. Here, split into separate little chunks, the episodes are separate pieces, and it works better.

But what The Mabinogion lacks that Morte D'Arthur has is an arc and a series of continual characters (yes, Arthur, Guenivere, and some of Arthur's knights show up in several tales, but not in every one). As a result, one doesn't recall as much when the tale is completed. A woman's son is stolen away (but is set up so that she looks as if she killed him), and she is forced to tell all visitors to the castle how she apparently killed her son. The son grows up. Someone discovers his true identity, and mom and son are reunited. A fine story, but one I recall probably because it was the very first. In the next to last story, a young man is told to marry a particular woman. He goes to Arthur's court to request the help of the king, his cousin. The knights then venture off to a new kingdom, meet with a man who requires of them some impossible tasks (lest they die) in order to win the lady, they do them, and the young man gets a wife (this piece reminded me how, in Christian lore, God does all these things for his people, who in turn reap the reward, even though they've done very little). In between are similar tales, full of quests and knights. But I'd be hard pressed to recount their plots.

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